Prof. Carole Bandy Explores Mysteries of the Human Brain, Trauma, and Well-being

Photo of Norwich University Dana Professor of Psychology Carol Bandy teaching in a classroom
Norwich University Office of Communication

August 9, 2016

For more than two decades, Norwich University social psychologist Carole Bandy, PhD, has applied her innate curiosity about how the brain works to study real-world problems. Problems like cultural stereotyping and shooting bias or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Working with colleagues on campus and around the globe, she has applied eye-tracking and electroencephalogram (EEG) data studies in novel ways. Her research has helped illuminate how the clothes people wear can activate or suppress a stereotype and how Transcendental Meditation can boost resiliency or reverse PTSD.

Bandy’s frequent collaborators include NU neuroscientist Kevin Fleming and Middlebury College clinical psychologist Matt Kimble. Combining their expertise, the researchers connect macro-level social behaviors to physiological processes happening in the brain on a micro scale.

Six years ago, the trio published a major study in the journal Social Neuroscience, which assessed how social perceptions and discrimination affect people’s decisions to shoot a gun in a weapons identification task.

Normally a comparison of how so-called “priming” photos of black and white men influence test subjects’ decisions to “shoot” a gun, Bandy and her colleagues were the first to introduce images of Middle Eastern men to the assessment.

The researchers found that clothing, not ethnicity, primed negative stereotypes. A photo of Middle Eastern man dressed in a traditional tunic and turban prompted a much higher error rate in test subjects. (“Shooting” at a photo of a hair-dryer or cordless drill, rather than another gun, for example.) While a picture of a Middle Eastern man dressed in a western suit did not.

“Clothing was the critical variable in discrimination,” Bandy says. “Stereotyping did not occur without it.” Those findings have now been downloaded countless times from Research Gate.

Since then, Bandy has continued to secure five-figure research grants and publish findings in respected journals, all while carrying a full teaching load. The achievement speaks to her drive to explore fundamental questions, even as retirement draws near. “The nature of research is that once you start down a path, the further you go with it, the more it pulls you,” Bandy says.

Many decades into that research journey, those questions have only grown more compelling. Among a raft of ongoing research projects, Bandy remains intently curious about Transcendental Meditation (TM), a practice she first encountered in graduate school over 45 years ago. She is particularly interested in TM’s demonstrated ability to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression and improve critical thinking and mental resilience.

For Bandy, the driving question is why the regular practice of restful awareness works. “Not whether it works. That much is clear,” she says. “But how? What is going in in the brain?”

In 2011, Bandy initiated a multi-year Transcendental Meditation study at Norwich using random assignment—the research gold standard—among first-year military cadets. Twenty-eight students were taught Transcendental Meditation from day one. While a control group of the same size began their meditation training six months later.

Using self-report questionnaires, behavioral and eye-tracking tasks, and EEG data, Bandy and her colleagues assessed how individuals in both groups responded to threat. Early adopters of meditation showed lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression and better critical thinking and mental resilience. These measures improved over time as cadets continued their meditation training, results confirmed in a second study of 60 cadets the following year.

Bandy has shared this research with members of the U.S. military, which has expressed interest in TM’s potential to reduce PTSD in troops entering or returning from combat.

More recently, Bandy has collaborated in two studies with colleagues in Iowa, Rwanda, and South Africa, including the University of South Africa, to measure the effectiveness of TM to treat PTSD in Congo refugees and South African college students. Endemic violence in both countries causes high incidences of PTSD in both groups.

Among students who started TM training, “there were significant drops in PTSD in as little as two weeks,” she says. Bandy notes that by 100 days, nearly all study participants practicing meditation showed sub-threshold measures for PTSD.

Bandy theorizes that transcendental meditation works for a very simple reason. It helps people with PTSD rebalance or optimize the relationship between two areas of the brain: the cognitive frontal area and the more primal limbic system, where our strongest emotional responses, such as extreme anger and extreme fear, originate.

In the future, Bandy plans to start a longitudinal study of Transcendental Meditation at Norwich.

Susan Limberg, a Class of 2015 graduate who commissioned last May into the U.S. Air Force as second lieutenant, was among the Norwich cadets who learned meditation in Bandy’s study. She describes it one of the highlights of her Norwich experience.

“[Carole] has consistently used her experiences as a scholar to informally mentor her Norwich colleagues and to formally mentor a multitude of psychology students,” says David Westerman, a Dana Professor of Geology and Associate Vice President for Research at Norwich.

Raised in Tennessee, Bandy earned her master’s degree from the University of Memphis and her PhD in social psychology from George Washington University. She joined the Norwich faculty in 1995 after serving as principal investigator on a $250,000 grant awarded to the Norwich University Applied Research Institutes to evaluate the effectiveness of a new gunnery training system for the National Guard.

Bandy remains deeply invested in undergraduate research at Norwich, where she was hired to teach junior and senior-year thesis seminars, classes she continues to teach 20 years later. “We are probably the only department in the country that requires [a senior research thesis] of all undergraduates.”

Doing so means students “have to literally be a researcher themselves and that’s the essence of the discipline,” Bandy says.

In recognition of her innovative scholarship and teaching, Bandy was recently named Norwich University’s newest Charles A. Dana Professor by university President Richard M. Schneider. “It’s a wonderful honor,” Bandy says. “It’s the highest honor, really, that a faculty member can get here at Norwich.”

Ideas @ Work: #17 Two-Stage Trigger

33 ideas big and small from Norwich students, faculty, staff, and alumni that are transforming campus and the world.

The Norwich Record

Spring 2016

Applying new science to an old idea, Norwich psychology faculty and students have spent the past year developing an early prototype of a two-stage firearm trigger. Faculty members Matt Thomas, Kevin Fleming, and Carole Bandy, and students John Dulmage, Heather Powell, and Muhammad Ali Shahidy believe the project may help prevent wrongful shootings. Their work is based on findings at Norwich that reveal how the human brain processes shooting scenarios. While it takes our brains just 100 milliseconds to deliver instructions to squeeze a trigger, it takes our brains 320 milliseconds to visually process a target. Did the suspect pull a gun or a cell phone? The two-stage trigger project aims to give our brains a brief moment of pause to ask, Are you sure?

More Ideas@Work:

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Norwich University announces new academic major in neuroscience


December 14, 2015

NORTHFIELD, Vt. – Norwich University officials announced that beginning Fall 2016 the university will offer a new major of academic study, a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience.

A field that is interdisciplinary in nature, the Neuroscience program will expose students to a rapidly growing field at the intersection of Biology and Psychology, while also providing students a firm background in Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics. Neuroscience graduates will draw knowledge from a variety of specialties, effectively mastering the human nervous system from cellular, molecular, biochemical, cognitive and behavioral perspectives.

“Educating students about the human nervous system in health and disease will prepare them for managing the public health challenges of our global population,” Assistant Professor of Biology Megan Doczi says.

The director of the neuroscience program, Doczi conducts research into the developmental regulation of potassium ion channels in avian hypothalamic neurons, funded by the Vermont Genetics Network.

When asked why students should study neuroscience, Doczi said: “I think that unknown component of the nervous system and the brain, in particular, is what draws me to the discipline. And I hope I communicate that enthusiasm to my students as well. I just love when they ask questions that I can’t answer. Because nobody can answer some of the questions that they’re asking, and those are the questions that need to be asked.”

The new major will be housed in the College of Science and Mathematics.

Read more about Doczi and her thoughts on neuroscience here.

˜˜˜About Norwich University 

Norwich University is a diversified academic institution that educates traditional-age students and adults in a Corps of Cadets and as civilians. Norwich offers a broad selection of traditional and distance-learning programs culminating in Baccalaureate and Graduate Degrees. Norwich University was founded in 1819 by Captain Alden Partridge of the U.S. Army and is the oldest private military college in the United States of America. Norwich is one of our nation’s six senior military colleges and the birthplace of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).

In fulfillment of Norwich’s mission to train and educate today’s students to be tomorrow’s global leaders and captains of industry, the Forging the Future campaign is committed to creating the best possible learning environment through state-of-the-art academics and world-class facilities. Learn more about the campaign and how to participate in the “Year of Transformation” here:    

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